Late January of this year we saw the release of All Melody following a period of constructive silence from German pianist, composer and producer Nils Frahm. In his two year absence from the stage, Frahm had quietly moved out of his home studio and reemerged in Saal 3 of the historical Funkhaus Berlin nestled just east of the River Spree in Berlin.
Once a major broadcast center built in the early 1950s, the duties of the Funkhaus Berlin remained tied to radio and broadcast until the reunification of Germany in 1990. Ever since then the Funkhaus has been serving as a concert hall and venue now with the new addition of Nils in Saal 3. Of the four in-house studios, Saal 3 was once reserved for recording chamber ensembles, but it has now become the nascent and emergent space for the composer’s newest album: All Melody.
Known for his indulgent use of vintage gear, it was only expected that Saal 3’s inhabitants remain the usual suspects: a custom pipe organ, retro synths and drum machines, analog tape delays and echoes, and of course various pianos to name a few tools of the artist’s craft. Despite the intrepid relocation, the two years that the artist had spent crafting his new space meant that Frahm had also reworked his approach to composing. His previous solo albums contrasted between being delicately sparse or intensely tempestuous–all of which shouldered and delivered to us with acuity the intensity of Nils’ complex depth.
All Melody is the first major solo release since 2015’s release Solo. In the midst of multiple experimental/electronic/jazz collaborations with childhood musicians for the nonkeen records and Icelandic composer Ólafur Arnalds, Solo was a minimalistic return from the multifaceted journey of experimentalism back to a sentiment elegance. Solo was the recomposure of Nils in front of his piano mic’ed in a such a manner where even the ambient creaks of old wood and percussive thuds of felted hammers on piano wires became music themselves. And although three years have passed–a substantial but not uncommon time between albums for artists–the sound is still undeniably Nils, but with breaths of unfamiliar elements inaugural to All Melody.
Stylistic to Frahm, the album’s first track “The Whole Universe Wants To Be Touched” opens with the subtle hiss of ambient room noise to be followed by footsteps quickly stepping away from the mic source. These opening footsteps institute the grandiosity of Saal 3’s large chamber enclosed by the exposed wooden surfaces on all four sides. Then suddenly a vocal choir, London-based Shard, draws its melancholic breath in contrast to the deep, droning synth progression that is so well-associated with the artist. Simultaneously we enter a moment of reassuring reacquaintance with the long-awaited release contrasted with a studio choir never to have been heard on his records up until now. Just as the new space of Saal 3 is openly lush with natural warmth from its large chamber, we see with All Melody that Nils has created space–even in his trademark style of being either minimalistic or all-encompassing–in his compositions to invite other elements, other musicians, into the fold.
While the album title connotes a focus on lyricism comparable to his previous solo albums like Screws or The Bells, this newest release shares a similar melancholy to his latest endeavours in Spaces or even his collaborative experimental works with nonkeen. All Melody is exactly that–an album of mellifluous passages that’s home to not only Frahm, but to an invitation of guest artists with the likes of trumpetist Richard Koch improvising on “Human Range” with the sparsely percussive elements belonging to our German composer.
Curiously, with taking such a big step in opening his compositions to guest artists, Nils remains sparse and restrained, as if he was almost cautious in letting this project stray too far in the midst of such changes. In fact, within All Melody, Nils’ style has remained impeccably Nils down to the predictable percussive synth motifs and the ambient piano sounds.
This latest release is certainly a warm and welcome return for Frahm and the consistent elements that he brings to all of his records. For Nils, his center of focus from the start has always been about nuanced textures and bringing his immediate surroundings to life. While All Melody could have easily extolled boldness and spotlighted the pushing of boundaries, Nils let the record guide itself into one that carried the organic voice of Saal 3 of the Funkhaus and ambitious works to come once the limitations of the Funkhaus have been tested and boundaries pushed in the coming future.
For now, Nils has already rounded up the usual suspects out of Saal 3 and is currently on a nearly sold out international tour to share with us All Melody. You can catch him in San Francisco later this year in July when he returns to the United States for the second leg of his tour.
Constance Huang is an audio engineer and music educator in Los Angeles. Her repertoire includes formidable women in the music industry and all sounds experimental to instrumental.
Photography by Alexander Shcneider